Tag Archives: medical flights

Rural Access to Medical Flights is More Important than Ever

The COVID-19 pandemic is slowly making inroads into rural America. The higher number of elderly people living in rural communities is especially vulnerable now. Moreover, the infection is known to be fatal to people with diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments that impact natural immunity in human beings. All things considered, people living in rural parts of the country must have access to medical flights. However, this is turning out to be a huge problem for organizations that offer air ambulance services. It has again boiled down to balance billing, insurance denials, and financial burden to patients.

Medical Flights Being Denied Coverage is a Concern

Medical flights are a part of an industry that is highly competitive and which is already struggling to stay afloat. The COVID-19 situation has created an emergency of sorts throughout the nation and medical flights need to play a huge role in offering adequate coverage to rural communities. However, the threat of inadequate coverage is limiting its services. In this context, it must be noted that when coverage is denied by insurance companies, the burden is shifted to the patients. This presents a significant financial burden to the patients that can run into several tens of thousands.

The Percentage of Balance Billing is Small but Significant

About 300,000 air ambulance evacuations are carried out every year; of this, 3% end up in balance bills. This is primarily due to insurance denials. Most of these denials are due to the service provider being out-of-network.

The providers of medical flights too have not been keen on going in-network with insurance companies. The reason for this is the fact that reimbursements rates have remained unchanged. However, there is hope. With states like Florida looking to revise insurance reimbursement rates, the scenario could change soon.

Medical Flights Amidst COVID-19 Spread

Keeping medical flights afloat during the ongoing COVID-19 spread is turning out to be an uphill task for most air ambulance companies. Several issues that were never thought of before are surfacing now. Shortage is a word that is widespread in the industry today. We take a look at some of the issues that are hindering the functioning of the industry.

Professionals Being Moved Away from Medical Flights

The shortage of frontline, qualified medical staff is a well-known problem in the current scenario. No amount of frontline medical workers is proving enough to tackle the growing COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously, staff serving medical flights is being called to fill this deficit. The development is quite understandable, but it is certainly hindering the air ambulance services.

Lack of Adequate Medical Flights

COVID-19 has given too little time for medical flights to adapt. Isolation facilities are not good enough to carry infected patients in most medical flights. Employing these can, no doubt, put the frontline workers at risk of contracting the highly contagious infection.

Lack of Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment is essential if emergency workers are to function seamlessly. However, every country around the world is currently facing a shortage of these. This is a huge roadblock.

Fall in Emergency Cases

The lockdown that is being followed in almost all countries around the world has translated into less road traffic, and as a consequence, MVAs have gone down. Also, it is not easy for people to procure illicit substances, so related cases have also gone down. There is, therefore, a slight slump in demand, which is quite welcome.

Once the world goes back to normal, it is expected that the medical flights too will be able to function normally. Until then, the industry will function as efficiently as possible given the constraints.

Medical Flights: Help for Rural Coronavirus-Infected Seniors

As the United States comes to a realization that its healthcare system – one of the most expensive in the world – is not all that prepared to handle the Coronavirus or COVID-119 pandemic, medical flights are turning out to be the most viable option, especially for rural communities of the country. According to one estimate by Kaiser Health News, there are over 7 million people in the United States who are 60-plus and at a particularly high risk of severe Coronavirus infection. Now, add to the mix, the fact that over half of the counties in the country do not have enough intensive care beds and the magnitude of the problem suddenly dawns upon us.

Reaching Intensive Care Units via Medical Flights

Intensive care units usually have high-tech bedside equipment that is, otherwise, absent in regular healthcare facilities. They have ventilators that are essential for survival in severe COVID-19 cases. In this context, it must be noted that in most counties, where intensive care units are available, the number of beds is hugely limited. At times, it is just one bed for a few hundred seniors.  For instance, it has been highlighted that in Jefferson County, the Louisville area has just one intensive care unit bed for almost 450 people. If you thought that was bad, imagine the state of Santa Cruz, California, which just has one for over 2,500 people. However, the numbers improve significantly when it comes to urban areas. This gap can be efficiently bridged by medical flights.

Costs, Insurance, and Medical Flights

In the days to come, it is the will of the government that will matter the most. If drastic steps are taken to take care of the cost of medical flights through better insurance coverage or government aid, the situation can be handled better. At the current time, a clear indication needs to go out to the providers of medical flights, so that they can prep their choppers and airplanes to aid in the containment of the pandemic in a timely manner.

An App to Summon Medical Flights

In the prevailing scenario, patients and emergency personnel rely heavily on phone calls to summon medical flights. The methodology is highly time-consuming and necessitates a lot of information to set up an air ambulance and then dispatch it. This is not an ideal situation when the patient needs urgent care, especially when technological advancements are capable of making things much easier. We use mobile applications every day to order taxi services. What if we could replicate the model to order medical flights too? Would it not be an ideal replacement for the current time-consuming methodology? Let’s take a look at the different aspects.

Integrating Medical Flights – More Power to Choose

Imagine a mobile application that allows you to choose from a list of air ambulance service providers. Out-of-network services will cease to be a problem and insurance companies will be more likely to approve the claims that a consequence of ordering medical flights. From patients to physicians, everyone would have instant access to multiple service providers. The app can also feature details about air ambulance affiliations with various insurance networks. The whole exercise would be much more efficient than it currently is.

Integrating Medical Flights with Electronic Health Systems

Patient information is today stored in highly secure electronic health systems. Hospitals and medical service providers are mandated by the government to store patient information in these systems. What this means is that all patient information such as medical history, allergy, family history, etc., is readily available during emergencies. Imagine connecting this data to the patient through the app. As soon as medical flights are called for, a notification can directly go to the receiving physician, along with all the medical details. If this becomes a reality, the receiving facility would be much better prepared for the patients and will be able to offer timely care, resulting in faster recovery.

Prepping Medical Flights for Success

Amid thundering engines and pounding heartbeats, crews of medical flights set out on life-saving missions every day. The mission starts even before the takeoff. The planning begins with choosing the right crew, the right aircraft, ground coordination, specialists – the list goes on. On long-haul flights, it is also about accommodating the crew members of the medical flights once they land in far off places. Accounting for all the eventualities is what makes a mission successful.

Medical Flights beyond Borders

It takes anywhere between 12 hours to a day to get appropriate permissions for medical flights to cross borders. Failing to achieve this, can result in unnecessary delays and administrative hurdles. When the patient is critical, such a waste of time is can prove to be the difference between life and death. The degree of difficulty in obtaining these permits varies from one country to another. It can cost anywhere between USD 50 and USD 400.

Security of Medical Flights

All said and done, there are always those rare instances where air ambulances have to take off, and the ground staff then has to quickly work towards obtaining the permits. Security is a prime concern in such instances, especially if the travel destination is politically volatile. Experienced medical flight service providers are well aware of such issues and are always prepared for them. They know the process and the people in the right places to make it happen.

Planning the Duration

Typically, air ambulances can be prepared to take off within an hour but these are always short-haul. For longer distances, it can take twice this time. Fuel, medical supplies, landing permits, etc. are part of the preparation.

Medical flights are usually called for emergencies. It takes an experienced crew to smoothly handle the unexpected. This includes the pilot and also coordinators during long flights.

Medical Flights – The Market-Driving Factors

It is believed that the medical flights will be in great demand for most part of the next two decades and will grow at a rate of 9.3%. In the past year, the industry grew to US$ 4,524.7 million. Those are some robust numbers and not the kind we commonly see in the prevailing economy. What are the driving factors behind these trends? It is certainly not the affordability of the people as evident by the growing concerns surrounding the balance bills that never fail to make the headlines. It is the medical need that is driving the air ambulance industry. Here are some sharp insights.

Medical Flights and Diabetes

Perhaps the most common lifestyle disease that prevails today is diabetes. While there is nothing that cries emergency about diabetes, it is a cause for more serious ailments. People with diabetes are known to eventually develop serious heart and kidney conditions, which give rise to life-threatening emergencies. This is where medical flights come into picture. With the US fighting obesity and diabetes (as a consequence), the market is set on an upswing. In fact, currently, there are about 463 million diabetics in the country, and it is projected to reach 700 million in the next 25 years.

Medical Flights and Drug-Related Emergencies

The illicit drug menace has bothered the country for long. Today, it is believed drugs are among the biggest killers when it comes to people under the age of 50. A lot of times, these give rise to serious and unexpected medical emergencies ranging from overdose to motor vehicle accidents. Medical flights are the only recourse in most cases.

Medical Flights and Rural Hospitals

It is a known fact that rural hospitals have been closing down at a rapid rate in the country, and the trend has been up since a decade now. Medical flights are the only way out for the residents of such areas.

In a way, the market for medical flights is a reflection of how healthy the society is.

Making Medical Flights Safer – Drone Rules

In light of the recent developments where medical flights around the world were disrupted due to illegally flying drones, there are a few questions that beg to be asked: “Is flying drones legal in the United States?”, “If so, what are the rules and legislations that govern flying of drones?”. Once you are aware of facts such as these, it helps flying them within the legal bounds making it easier for medical flights to ply. It must be noted in this context that flying drones is perfectly legal in the United States, subject to certain restrictions, so much so that even foreigners can bring them into the country and fly them. The Federal Aviation Authority as well as National Aviation Authority allow them.

Rules that Govern Drones in the United States

Rules for flying drones recreationally:

  • The reason for flying must only be recreational and there must be no business angle to it.
  • Hobbyists must visit https://faadronezone.faa.gov/#/ and register the drone with Federal Aviation Authority
  • The drones must never escape your line of vision as you fly them
  • Only those drones which are under 55 lbs are permitted
  • One must never be close to any aircraft
  • Only flying in Class G airspace is allowed
  • It is strictly prohibited to fly close to emergency response vehicles such as medical flights

Rules for flying drones commercially:

  • The operator must hold a FAA-issued Remote Pilot Certification
  • The drones must be registered with FAA just like recreational ones
  • It must weight under 55 lbs
  • The flight must not cross the speed of 100 miles per hour
  • The drone must always remain below 400 feet so that they do not disturb medical flights and other aircrafts
  • Any manned aerial vehicle must be given the right to way
  • Flying directly over people is prohibited
  • Flying a drone from a vehicle is only allowed in thinly populated regions

If these simple rules are taken care of, drone flying becomes a safe activity.

Preparing for Medical Flights

Medical flights are nothing to look forward to but preparing for them does take the stress off somewhat. Let’s look at different aspects of medical air transport and see how you can be prepared for them.

Here are a few details that the flight coordinator will ask you. Keep them handy when you go on a call with one.

  • The name of the patient
  • Date of birth of the patient
  • Weight as well as height of the patient
  • The mobility status of the patient: can he walk, sit, stand, etc.
  • Contact information of the patient and/or the caregivers
  • Specify the need for special equipments such as oxygen, intravenous lines, etc.
  • Health insurance details

If the patient is being transferred from one treating facility to another, you must have the following records handy:

  • Copy of the health insurance documents
  • Copy of the discharge summary as well as the most recent copy of history and physical exam

Before Boarding Medical Flights

There are specifications that medical flights lay down when it comes to luggage that the person accompanying the patient can carry. Know about that well in advance. Also, there are usually limitations on the number of people who can accompany the patient. Usually, it’s just one person. The person accompanying must bring along an identification document.

If You Make Receiving Arrangements

There are instances where people make bookings well in advance so that the patient is admitted to the hospital that his or her family desires. If that’s the case with you too, inform the care coordinator in advance so that a land ambulance can be arranged to take the patient to the treating facility. If the receiving facility has a helipad, then the coordinator will keep the hospital informed of your arrival so that appropriate arrangements can be made.

A Guide to Air Blocks on Medical Flights

The study of aviation physiology is quite extensive. On diving deep into this subject, it becomes apparent that air blocks are major factors that bring about physiological changes in relation to altitude. To say that principles of aviation physiology hold good for medical flights too is stating the obvious. In this guide, we highlight some of the very common air blocks. These must be considered every time a person opts for a flight, pressurize or unpressurized.

Ear Blocks on Medical Flights

The symptoms primarily start as a feeling of fullness; however, the symptom may take a slightly painful turn in higher altitudes and ultimately lead to vertigo. The solutions though are pretty simple:  yawning, swallowing and Valsalva are quite effective.

Sinus Blocks on Medical Flights

There can be two types of sinus blocks. The first type is maxillary sinus block. This is characterized by sharp pain beneath the cheekbones as well as upper dentition. The second type is frontal and is characterized by severe pain under the eyebrow as well as eye corners. The best remedy for this is Valsalva maneuver.

Gastrointestinal Tract Blocks on Medical Flights

Our digestive system can hold a lot of trapped gas. When a person travels on a high-altitude medical flight, this collection of gas can lead to physiological changes in the gastrointestinal tract causing discomfort and sometimes, slight pain. Belching and flatus can provide instant relief.

Tooth Blocks on Medical Flights

This is not the most common air block on medical flights; however, these can be quite painful and irritating. Sometimes, the natural gaps within teeth and gaps that occur due to dental procedures can retain air and act like bubbles. These air blocks can cause pain at high altitude. There is no immediate remedy for this condition. It is advised that the patient visit a dentist upon landing.

It must be noted that any discomfort that does not go away even after the above-suggested techniques must be dealt with all seriousness. In extreme cases, descent or landing may be warranted.

Guide to Tackling Hypoxia on Medical Flights at High Altitudes

Hypoxia is almost a certainty at high altitudes unless it is cared for. However, it does not usually occur as medical flights usually have pressurised cabins. This does not mean that we do not pay any heed to this potentially life-threatening condition, which is a real possibility on medical flights, when the altitudes are in excess of 10 thousand feet above the sea level.

The word hypoxia, when literally translated means lack of oxygen. A decrease in supply of oxygen to human body can bring about myriad symptoms and recognizing these, especially when in medical flights, is extremely important, as patients are usually already in a weak health position in air ambulances.

The Signs of Hypoxia on Medical Flights

Paramedics and nurses onboard medical flights must look for signs such as impaired judgement, lethargy, poor physical coordination, bluing of the skin (also known as cyanosis) and rapid breathing. The intensity of each of these signs may vary but these are the most visible signs that the patient is experiencing hypoxia.

The Symptoms of Hypoxia on Medical Flights

Surprisingly, euphoria or extreme happiness can be a symptom of hypoxia. Other symptoms can be a sensation of tingling, impaired visual capacity, cold or hot flashes, dizziness, headache, nausea, fatigue and air hunger. Not all symptoms might be present in one single individual but at least some of these might be present when the patients are hypoxic in medical flights.

The Effects of Hypoxia on Human Beings

It must be noted that about 20% of all oxygen that we take in is used by our brain. So, one of the first organs that is affected by hypoxia is the brain. If the brain is deprived of oxygen, it can lead to severe and permanent brain damage leaving the person with impaired functions for life. In extreme cases, it may even cause death. However, treating hypoxia, fortunately, is easy. All that patients aboard medical flights need is 100% oxygen and the symptoms vanish within a matter of seconds.